Past the Paranoia, Durant Takes New Mindset Into 2017 Finals: ‘Can't Wait'

OAKLAND -- Practice is over, as are his primary media obligations for the day. And now Kevin Durant is strolling over and plopping into a chair to talk with about himself and his game and the upcoming NBA Finals.

The Finals are hours away, marching hard toward the Warriors, breathing on every member of the organization, no one more than Durant.

Durant is feeling this as much or more than anyone else. He has spent the better part of his 28 years not so much chasing a ring but stalking ultimate professional confirmation and the approval that comes with it.

Stephen Curry already has his, as do Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. They got theirs in 2015, beating the Cavaliers in six games.

LeBron James has it, too, with multiple MVP trophies as well as multiple championship rings, his most recent coming last June when he was instrumental in Cleveland overcoming a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors.

Durant wants his, wants it now, and he knows that means going through the Cavaliers. Going through James, one of the few players against whom he measures himself.

"I believe in obsession for the game and being paranoid," Durant says. "I think all the good ones are really paranoid. That's something I realized about myself.

"But I don't want to go out there and overthink and be too obsessive about something, instead of just letting it flow and being nervous about whether this guy might be working harder than me or taking the game more seriously than I am. That's the paranoia I'm talking about. If I get my work in, and you do, too, that's cool. But I can't let you get your work in and I don't put mine in. That bothers me."

There was a time, you see, when Durant's paranoia got the best of him. That may have been the case in 2011-12, when Durant's Oklahoma City team faced James and the Miami Heat in The Finals. If Durant was paranoid before that series, he was almost manic afterward.

No longer, he says, citing the experiences of the past five seasons, which have taught him to find a balance between utter devotion and playing with joy.

"That's something a lot of guys are paranoid about, especially me," he says, "But being overly obsessive is something I kind of did away with a few years ago. It wasn't working for me. I was angry a lot. I was lashing out at teammates and just trying to be perfect, when the game is supposed to be pure and fun and enjoyable but also disciplined."

That's the mindset Durant takes into these Finals, and it's something encouraged, practically required, by Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.

This is a chance for Durant to rub out any lingering bitterness from his previous encounter with James in The Finals, in 2012. After Durant and the Thunder took Game 1 by 11, James and the Miami Heat came back to win the next four games and, therefore, the series.

Durant averaged 30.6 points per game, on 54.8-percent shooting, 39.4 percent beyond the arc. James averaged 28.6 points, shooting 47.2 percent overall, 18.8 percent from deep. James had more rebounds and assists and steals, Durant more blocks. Durant was the only OKC player to take more than three shots a game and shoot better than 43.3 percent (Russell Westbrook), while none James' fellow starters shot below 43.5 percent (Dwyane Wade) -- and all four shot at least 40 percent from deep.

Durant was 23, James 27, and they pretty much offset each other. The difference in that series was that Miami snipers Shane Battier and Mike Miller combined to shoot 59.5 percent (22-of-37) from beyond the arc.

So, yes, Durant wants another shot at James. And it doesn't matter they are on different teams.

"I feel like I know his game," Durant says. "I've been studying him and Melo and D-Wade and Paul Pierce. T-Mac. I feel like I've been studying those type guys my entire life. Playing against him, I know exactly what his game is.

"But just because I know it doesn't make it easier to stop."

Durant will be among the phalanx of defenders assigned to James, just as James will take his turns against Durant. The two are very different, the angular Durant relying on guile and agility and a pure shooting stroke, while the muscular James follows his strength, vision and bravado.

"I've watched him and studied as a kid," says Durant, who was 14 when James was drafted first overall in 2003. "And I continue to watch, play back every game in my head and I try to use that to help my out on the defensive end the offensive end."

Durant's excitement is palpable. Asked how much he's looking forward to The Finals, he breaks into a smile. Not just any smile. It's the naked, delighted grin of a comfortable 9-year-old visualizing a bountiful Christmas morning.

"Looking forward to it? Hell yeah. Can you tell?" he says.

"This year has taught me a lot. Just because I can say I'm so ready, that I can't wait to go out there and play my ass off. I'm going to play hard as hell. But it's not like I come in here and I'm not focused on shootaround or 5-on-0 or pre-practice shootaround. I'm telling myself I can't wait to go out there and play. I can't wait. And you can have all that built up in your head.

But you've still got to prepare the right way and stick to your routine. I rely on that, rather than showing my emotions about me being in The Finals. I know where I am. I'm just trying to rely on the hard work and preparation instead of just blowing smoke up my own ass."

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